Gold Cup offers chance for CONCACAF`s talent to shine
Miami: After a week in which CONCACAF officials were in the news for bribery allegations and bitter political wrangling, the regional soccer organisation puts on its premier tournament, the Gold Cup, with 12 national teams playing at 13 venues across the United States.
The championship for North and Central America and Caribbean nations starts at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas Sunday and culminates on June 25 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California with the US and Mexico the favourites to make that final.
The two powerhouses of the region will however face some strong competition in what promises to be a fascinating tournament with all nations bringing full-strength squads.
Honduras, who qualified for last year`s World Cup finals along with the US and Mexico, and Costa Rica, who just missed out in a play-off for a spot in South Africa, could both offer a strong challenge for the title.
El Salvador, Jamaica and Canada will all be looking to show they have made improvements since the last competition two years ago.
The tournament began in 1963 as the CONCACAF Championship and became restructured as the Gold Cup 20 years ago in 1991 and the winner represents the region in FIFA`s pre-World Cup showcase, the Confederations Cup.
Defending champions Mexico have the best record with eight titles, five since 1991. The US have four titles, all in the last two decades, while Costa Rica have three, all pre-1991.
Mexico, who kick off their campaign against El Salvador Sunday, will look to their flair forwards to deliver for them once again.
Arguably, the biggest drawcard in the tournament is Manchester United`s 23-year-old Mexican striker Javier Hernandez.
`Chicharito` has enjoyed an outstanding debut season in England`s Premier League, winning the title and scoring 20 goals in all competitions and he will lead the line for `El Tri`, to no doubt much excitement from the huge crowds that follow the team in the US.
Giovani dos Santos, under contract with England`s Tottenham Hotspur, but loaned out to Racing Santander in Spain last season, is a creative talent who has shown more at international level than in club action and will be a handful for defences.
The United States, after the disappointment of going out to Ghana in the second round of last year`s World Cup and the humiliating 5-0 loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup final in 2009, will be looking to familiar faces to deliver a much-needed boost.
LA Galaxy`s Landon Donovan and Fulham`s Clint Dempsey will link-up with the surprisingly recalled Freddy Adu, who has been given a chance to restart his international career by coach Bob Bradley.
But many fans will be keen to see how Juan Agudelo, the teenage New York Red Bulls striker, copes with the demands of a tournament after impressing in friendly appearances.
Costa Rica, beaten finalists in 2002, hope that the prolific Bryan Ruiz, who plays with Twente Enschede in the Netherlands, will again show his touch in front of goal as they seek their first CONCACAF title since 1989.
Honduras, with a midfield built around England based duo Wilson Palacios and Hendry Thomas, will bring their lively counter-attacking style but they need to find some goals from somewhere and will hope that Carlo Costly can deliver.
Stephen Hart`s Canada are looking for their first appearance in a Gold Cup final since they won the title in 2000 and they have the perfect chance to give their fans something to cheer when they open up against their old rivals, the US in Detroit.
But the tournament also offers a chance for some of the lesser known players from countries like Guatemala, Grenada and Panama to put themselves in the shop window in a tournament which will be closely watched by scouts from the biggest clubs in the world.